Bill Walton played college basketball for John Wooden at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1970 to 1974, winning the national title in 1972 over Florida State and again in 1973 with an 87-66 win over Memphis State in which the big redhead from San Diego made an unbelievable 21 of 22 field goal attempts and scored 44 points. Some regard this as the greatest ever offensive performance in American college basketball. The Walton-led 1972-1973 UCLA basketball team went 30-0, won their games by an average margin of more than 20 points, and may have been the greatest college basketball team of all time. He was the backbone of two consecutive 30-0 seasons and was also part of UCLA's NCAA record 88 game winning streak. Bill Walton was the 1973 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Walton also received the Naismith College Player of the Year as the top college basketball player in the country three years in a row while attending UCLA. Some college basketball historians rate Walton as the greatest who ever played the game at the college level. In Bill Walton's senior year of 1973-1974, UCLA was inexperienced at guard, and the school's streak of seven consecutive national titles was snapped when North Carolina State defeated the Bruins 80-77 in double overtime in the NCAA semi-finals. After Walton's graduation in 1974, UCLA defeated Kentucky for the NCAA title in 1975 to complete an amazing run of ten national championships in twelve years. Legendary Bruin coach John Wooden retired after UCLA's 1975 title, and Bill Walton was one of the key figures during the school's unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated domination of college basketball. With the departures of Wooden and Walton, the UCLA dynasty came to an end.
He was the Portland Trail Blazers' number one draft choice and was hailed as the savior of the Blazers, but in his first two seasons, he was injury-prone as his team missed the playoffs. It was not until the 1976-77 season that he was healthy and, thanks to coach Jack Ramsay, the Trail Blazers became the Cinderella team of the NBA.
He went on to lead the Blazers to the NBA title in 1977. The following year, the Blazers won 50 of their first 60 games, leading the league, before Walton suffered a broken foot, which turned out to be the first in a horrific string of foot and ankle injuries that cut short his career. He was nonetheless named the league MVP that season (1978).
After several seasons alternating between the court and the disabled list with both Portland and his hometown San Diego Clippers, he spent a considerable amount of money to buy himself out of his Clippers contract in 1985. He then called Jerry West, then general manager (GM) of the Los Angeles Lakers, asking about the prospects of playing for the team; West refused, citing Walton's injury history. Next, he called Boston Celtics GM Red Auerbach. At the urging of Larry Bird, who happened to be in Auerbach's office at the time of Walton's call, Auerbach signed Walton, adding the perfect piece to the Celtics' last championship run to date (1986). Providing a reliable backup to Bird's fellow front-liners Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Walton would receive the NBA Sixth Man Award that season, becoming the only player to have ever won both the Sixth Man Award and MVP.
However, he was again injured the following season. Walton attempted a comeback in 1990, but injury again intervened and he retired from the game. His ankle problems became so severe years later that he had both his ankles surgically fused. His saga of injury and failed rehabs was connected to the less than ethical dispersal of pain killers by the Doctor who was assigned to his case. In effect he was rushed back onto the court before he was totally ready to play, sometimes even playing on ankles that were still broken. Walton however, not one to harbor animosity has said repeatedly in his broadcasts that he is just as much to blame for taking the medication as the Doctor was for giving it to him. But still his experience with injuries and the circumstances surrounding them have come to serve as a warning for professional athletes who undergo major injury as well as being an interesting casestudy for medical ethics.
In 1996, he was named as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of all time.
Since his retirement as a player, Walton has overcome a severe stuttering problem to become a successful NBA color commentator for NBC (1990–2002) and ABC/ESPN (since 2002). His son Luke, although not as tall as his father, played collegiately for the University of Arizona and now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers as a forward. Another of Walton's sons, Chris plays for San Diego State University. Nate, his middle son, played basketball at Princeton University but then entered the corporate world and earned his MBA from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. Nate was also on the ballot for the 2003 California Recall Election, receiving 1,697 votes. Walton's other son, Adam, also played NCAA basketball at LSU.
Walton's trademark catchphrases include "That's a terrible call!", "What is a foul?", and "Throw it down, big man!" Another catchphase of Walton's is "Nice Pass!" on a good pass to a man for an open shot.
Walton is also a well-known fan of the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, and Phish, and Bob Dylan. He has attended numerous Dead concerts, quoting Dead lyrics on TV and radio interviews, and was even invited to play on-stage with the group. To fellow Deadheads, Walton is fondly known as "Grateful Red". Walton expounds upon his music interests on his own satellite radio show, One More Saturday Night (named after a Dead song), heard during late prime time on Sirius Radio's "Jam On" channel. Walton has stated in his online introduction to his radio show column that he enjoys going to concerts alone because then he has fewer things in between him and reaching the omega point that all concert goers seek at shows.
Walton still has a committed relationship with the Celtics, if not professionally, as a fan. He's frequently mentioned that though he "grew up in the heart of Laker country, the Celtics were always MY team". He also keeps a picture of the floor of the old Boston Garden in his kitchen to remind him of what basketball is all about.